Surrounded by mountains, Lake Geneva is beautiful but it’s not flat. Not today. Today, it feels like I’m swimming in open ocean. I have to be at the top of a wave in order to spot the next buoy , my swimming form is all over the place and to cap it all I’m feeling sea sick in a lake that, the day before, was like a millpond. I wasn’t expecting this!
I’m racing in the World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland and it’s not started very well!
My preparations for “the worlds” have been ok and I’ve managed as much training as family and work would allow and crucially, I’m injury free (always a concern when you are an old duffer like me!). My brother Ken and I have been “acclimatising” in Lausanne for three days prior to my race and the build up has been great… so why am I swimming like drowning cat? Maybe it’s the waves and poor sighting , maybe it’s the current (seriously, in a lake, who’d have thought it?!), maybe it’s the lack of wetsuit (banned above 22 degrees) or lack of sleep (poor choice of accommodation!) . Excuses, excuses! More than likely it’s a lack of open water practice! As I flog the waves I realise I appear to be on my own….either I’m way off course (I think I might be closer to the French side of the lake than Lausanne!) or everyone else is. Assuming the former I adjust my direction and flog on. I’m relieved to discover I’m not the only one a bit off course and I attempt to draft behind an Australian athlete (everyone is wearing national kit). Sometimes it feels a bit easy, sometimes hard. I attempt to overtake, but don’t make a lot of headway, so I slot back in behind him.
Towards the end of the swim, the course turns so that it goes briefly with the current, then turns again so it’s across the current before reaching the finish. It’s only really at this point that I realise how strong the current is as I’m pushed away from the finishing arch quite quickly.
There are so many athletes racing (1800!) that not only is it split into waves based on gender and age group (I know I look far too young but I’m racing in the 50-54 category), but even my age group is too large (140) so had to split into two waves. I’m in the second wave with the next age group wave (Women 45-49) starting 5 minutes behind. I’m quite happy that I haven’t been caught by the ladies. They’d be easy to spot since they’ve got different coloured swim hats on. No sooner than that thought had crossed my mind I realised I had been caught! And passed! In the waves, I hadn’t even noticed! I’ve done the swim in 32 mins, officially my worst ever 1500m, by quite some margin! The current and waves seem to affect the slower swimmers more than the faster ones (which makes sense logically as the slower you are, the longer you’re swimming for, and more the current moves you in the wrong direction). But still, no excuses – that was a bloody awful swim! I resolve to redeem myself on the bike.
Running through to my bike is quite a long way – up a sandy beach, along a blue carpeted path, and into transition, which is vast! Luckily my rack slot is at the top of row ‘G’ – not difficult to remember, even with an addled post swim brain! No wetsuit so a super- fast transition and I’m off to the bike exit – some 400m of barefoot running!
I’ve been looking forward to the bike as its a technical, fast course with some severe (short) climbs that will challenge the pure power merchants – 2 laps with the steep hills in the first half, and a fast, undulating second half. Straight off, I start overtaking! Oh yes! Payback time! The crowd support is great and with my GB kit with my surname on it I can hear shouts of “Go GB!” and “Munn, we LOVE you!” (ok so made this one up …).
I had a plan to stick to a reasonable normalised power, allowing for more power uphill, and sections of not pedalling on the steeper downhills allowing for a better run however in my enthusiasm to redeem myself my plan quickly turns to “go as fast as you can for 40k!”
I hit the first hill and immediately start to pass a lot of people (ok, so a few were vintage women from an earlier wave..) – those reps up Kingscavil were starting to pay off. Reaching the top of the hill, I’m feeling ok and I start a long 600m descent getting up to 65kph. Having watched the elites the day before I knew I needed to brake well before the bend at the bottom and as I do so I’m aware of the overpowering smell of burning brake blocks – always a bit unnerving! Sure enough some poor sod has over cooked it and is in a heap against the padded barriers with paramedics around him. I take note and on the next steep descent I’m off the bars and braking super early – I want to make sure I finish this race!
As we moved to the more TT orientated part of the course positions start to become more set and I find myself trading places repeatedly with a Frenchman, an Aussie and a American (there is a joke in there somewhere..) in my age group whilst trying to avoid being in a drafting situation. This is one of my biggest concerns as there are so many different age group athletes on the course I seem to permanently in someone’s draft zone (10m) and there are lots of motorbike officials. Given you’ve got 20 seconds to make a pass, I can’t afford to have a break, slow down, and end up taking too long so the only solution is to keep overtaking! I think I’m going to pay for this on the run!
I’m a little worried by the end of the first lap that I might be overdoing it but I’m feeling ok and I am definitely making ground on the field so I plow on. My dual with my three amigos continues but somewhere during the second lap I manage to shake off both the Australian and US guys but not the Frenchy and with 1k to go he leaves me in his wake. C’est la vie.
Coming back towards transition I jump off without any hassle and drop my bike off , another good transition (I was chuffed to discover later that both my transitions were top 10) and then I’m off. Again it’s quite a long run to get out of transition, but at least I’ve got my shoes on this time!
The sun is fully out now and my legs are definitely feeling like I’ve borrowed a bit too much from them on the bike so I gulp another gel and start thinking about the first water station. There’s a lot more support now as people have got more time to see you coming when on foot. Boosted by this and a cooling cup of water I’m moving well… for the first kilometre.
However, I know what’s coming. Running along by the lake on the smooth tarmac, there’s a turn to the left, then BAM! A 19 percent hill! Having had a look before the race, I’d decided not to risk damaging my calves and walk up this, as fast as I can! It’s not very fast but I’m not actually losing ground on the people attempting to run up it! Oh, and it’s another 2 lap affair, so I’ve got to do this twice! The rest of the run has a couple more steep hills, but after those is, thankfully, flat. I trundle on, but on the couple of cutbacks, it slowly dawns on me that there are quite a lot of athletes ahead in my age group.
The second lap isn’t any easier than the first but I’m enjoying it (in a masochistic sort of way), and nothing is going wrong with my calves! I get overtaken by a fellow Brit who is going really well, and can see a couple more people closing in, but I decide they aren’t going to get past! The last kilometre becomes a personal battle with a Canadian guy called “McCullough”. Everyone else becomes peripheral. This whole race is now about beating him. I attempt to up the pace but he’s still there on my shoulder and he looks strong. Negative thoughts creep in – “you’ve never been a sprint finisher” and “ he’s going to drop a gear and smash me”. Luckily my brother is in the crowd on the last corner with some brotherly advice to jolt me out of this negativity…”come on old man…SPRINT!” I give it a last push , round the last cone, 50m to the blue carpet and hold on for the last 50m – Finished! McCullough is nowhere to be seen. I should have had more faith in myself!
I came 62nd out of 147 in my age group and 6th British athlete (the first GB athlete in my age group was 21st). It was a pretty humbling experience after a season of getting on the podium in 3 out of 5 races but then I reminded myself that this race was against the best non-professional age- group triathletes in the world and the standard of competition is very impressive – I mean, a 53 year old running a 35:30 10k off the bike? Its insane!
I’d hoped to do a bit better than I did, but realistically neither my swimming or running is fast enough (currently!) for this level of competition however, it was great fun, and an honour to represent GB at this level. If it hadn’t been for that pesky swim! Next time I’ll be faster….